Whoosh! Issue 31 - April 1999

BLESSED ARE THE GREEK:
CHRISTIAN SYMBOLISM IN XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS

IAXS project #635
By Catherine O'Grady
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
6737 words



Disclaimer
Introduction (01-02)
The Nativity, Life, and "Death"
     THE DELIVERER and GABRIELLE'S HOPE (03-20)
     MATERNAL INSTINCTS (21-23)
     SACRIFICE I and II (24-27)
Other Christian Symbols
     Crucifixion (28-31)
     Resurrection (32-36)
     Martyrdom (37)
     Forgiveness (38-40)
     The Fish (41-43)
Xena Characters
     Xena (44-50)
     Ares (51)
     Gabrielle (52-53)
     Eli (54-60)
Other Assorted Examples of Christian Symbolism
     A SOLSTICE CAROL (61)
     FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (62)
     Love and Redemption (63-65)
Conclusion (66)
Biography



Blessed Are The Greek:
Christian Symbolism In Xena: Warrior Princess




Disclaimer

I intend no offence at all to any Christians. I am not trying to trivialize the Christian church, Jesus Christ, or anyone else. Indeed, I am from an Irish Roman Catholic family, much like Lucy Lawless'. However, while watching this TV show, certain events and images leapt into my mind as very familiar. Once I stopped to think about it, I noticed a growing number of parallels with various aspects of the Christian faith. I do not claim it to be proof that Xena was the messiah or that Renaissance Pictures has a hidden agenda or anything. I just found it interesting that the producers and writers used so many Christian symbols and allusions.

In this article I am focusing on the New Testament and the Christian Church since the death of Jesus Christ. While I acknowledge that there are references to the Old Testament (such as, David and Goliath in GIANT KILLER [27/203], the Ark of the Covenant in A THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES [17/117], and the story of Abraham and Isaac being the inspiration for the story in ALTARED STATES [19/119]), I do not intend to explore those references in this article.

I am certainly not an expert theologian, and I will admit to a rather patchy knowledge of the Bible. So, hopefully having begged forgiveness (and I will also experience a fair degree of Catholic guilt over being too frivolous), let us go on.


Introduction

[1] A few years back, while reading about Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), I came across someone commenting on the religious symbolism in that film. The "Force" was distinctly Holy Spirit-like, good verses evil. Darth Vader was compared to the fallen archangel Lucifer, etc. For me, it added a certain something to my later viewings of the film. My enjoyment of C. S. Lewis' novel The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe was also enhanced when I was able to spot the allusions to Christianity. I had never thought of Jesus Christ as a lion before, but Aslan was indeed quite a hero of mine.

[2] Fast forward a few years to the beginning of season three of Xena: Warrior Princess. Just like those apostles walking on the road to Emmaus, my eyes were suddenly opened! The episode was GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305), and I was instantly struck by the similarities between this episode and the nativity story. The more I thought about it, the more other incidents and events from the series seemed to find their mirror in various aspects of Christianity. Grabbing an envelope to jot down my immediate thoughts, I soon had it filled with examples of Christian imagery, some obvious, some more subtle, and some very tenuous indeed!


The Nativity, Life and "Death"


THE DELIVERER and GABRIELLE'S HOPE

A good bleach will help with those blood stains, by the way

Gabrielle loses her 'blood innocence' in THE DELIVERER.


[3] The episode that really had me going, "but, but, that's just like..." was GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305). In GABRIELLE'S HOPE, there are so many parallels with the nativity story that cannot be coincidental. The storyline was a continuation of the one begun in THE DELIVERER (50/304), and the story strand I am thinking of is the one concerning Gabrielle, Dahak, and Hope.

[4] As for the conception of the child theme, Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 tell of a young innocent girl named Mary, who had an encounter with a messenger from God. Mary was told she would be the mother of God's child. She became pregnant, but there was no apparent sexual contact.

[5] While Hope's beginnings could not quite be classified as an immaculate conception, the story of the messenger, Khrafstar and his Biblical counterpart, the Angel Gabriel (hey, Gabriel/Gabrielle?), and then impregnation of an innocent girl by a deity are similar enough that Gabrielle's could almost be seen as an "anti-immaculate" conception. No sex was involved in either case, but both pure young women became the mother of a supreme being's offspring. The idea of Gabrielle's experience being the antithesis of Mary's is again emphasized as Gabrielle could only become suitable for Dahak's evil scheme by losing her blood innocence, while the Virgin Mary never did lose her innocence. Innocence or purity was an essential factor in the choice of both Mary and Gabrielle by the deity.

[6] Also, in Gabrielle's case, there is the question of consent. Some fans saw the impregnation as rape and were angry because of that, although close examination of Gabrielle's face while she was being surrounded and supported by fire in Dahak's temple does not suggest someone in pain. Instead, there is almost a look of rapture on her face. She looks entranced or taken to another sphere of existence. Her ascension by this unholy god, seems to be accompanied by a beatific expression, as saints taken up to heaven are often portrayed in works of art.

[7] How ever you look at Hope's conception, there WAS trickery performed on Gabrielle leading up to it. Her consent was not sought, and the pregnancy was unwanted. On the other hand, while Mary was apprehensive, she was a willing mother. So both Mary and Gabrielle became the conduit for God/Dahak to enter the world in the form of their son/daughter.

[8] In THE DELIVERER (50/304) and also in SACRIFICE I and II (67-68/321-322), Dahak is represented by fire. Fire is one of the best known symbols of the Holy Spirit often associated with the story of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). These verses tell of how Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to help and support the disciples when He returned to heaven. As the apostles were sitting in a room, they heard a noise like rushing, saw tongues of fire over their heads, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit IS God according to Christians who believe in the concept of the Blessed Trinity. In this teaching, there is one God, but He has three persons: God, the Father and Creator; God, the Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior; and, God, the Holy Spirit.

[9] However, fire is also often associated with the devil. Hell is sometimes depicted as a fiery furnace. This alternate reading of the fire may have symbolic resonance in terms of Gabrielle and her impregnation as well.

[10] The account of the Annunciation in Luke 1:35 says: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you...". If we substitute the name of Dahak for "Holy Spirit" and "Most High", this verse could describe Gabrielle's experience in the temple of Dahak in THE DELIVERER (50/304).

[11] The next stage for both expectant mothers was a journey: to Bethlehem for Mary and Joseph, and out of Britannia for Gabrielle. Joseph and Mary had to return to Bethlehem, their city of origin, for a Roman census ordered by the Emperor Augustus Caesar (Luke 2:1). It was another Roman who was the indirect cause of Xena and Gabrielle's trek. Like Mary, Gabrielle was there because her respective partner was making the journey. In Xena's case, it was to seek revenge against Julius Caesar. Gabrielle and Xena's trip was a long one, but most of it was before Gabrielle became pregnant. After the conception, they again journeyed. This time they moved through Britannia to make their way home to Greece.

[12] Next, we come to the birth. The stable and the animals present as Gabrielle gave birth were a very obvious allusion to the traditional nativity story (Luke 2:6-20). In the case of Baby Jesus, it was a stable because there was no room at the inn. Gabrielle and Xena were seeking shelter too, but they were fleeing an angry mob. The stable scene in GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) was probably the most overt allusion to the nativity: giving birth in a humble stable, surrounded by animals. The rather demonic looking goat struck a slightly ominous note, however. Bearing in mind who the father of Gabrielle's child was, it was quite a prophetic symbol.

Batteries not included

Gabrielle gives a cherished toy.


[13] The presence of strangers shortly after the birth is another similarity. Shepherds and Kings came for Jesus, knights and banshees for Baby Hope. We also saw the wooden lamb that Gabrielle gave to the baby, a solstice gift from Xena in the episode A SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209). This ties in with the presence of the shepherds. Baby Jesus was supposed to have received a lamb from the visiting shepherds according to thousands of infant school nativity lays performed over the years. Whether the lamb was a gift from the shepherd or not, the image of the lamb is a potent metaphor in Christian teachings. Jesus made reference to sheep, shepherds, and lambs while teaching about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:12-15.) Jesus himself is called the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. In this prayer, it is Jesus' sacrifice, like the sacrificial lamb, that is referred to. In the Book of Revelation, the word "lamb", is used over twenty five times as a reference to the Son of God.

[14] The Knights of the Pierced Heart have a pendant that is very similar to the popular picture of the Sacred Heart that the Roman Catholic Church has used for many years. It is a rather ghoulish painting, a copy of which my granny had, that shows Jesus opening his shirt at his chest to show a bleeding heart surrounded by thorns. I used to have nightmares about it, but it is a familiar picture for many Catholics. The pierced heart pendant is strikingly similar to this image.

[15] The Knights also bring up the question of whether Hope is a child of the darkness or of the light, and they mention how their beliefs say both children may come the same way. This is another parallel between the birth of Hope and the birth of Jesus: the child of the darkness and the child of the light. One of Jesus' best known titles was "the light of the world", (John 8:12), the one who would lead the people out of the darkness into the light. Classical art frequently has Jesus and other holy people with a halo of light shining on them. Hope is the child of a much less benevolent god, and she is described by one of the Knights of the Pierced Heart as, "the child of darkness".

[16] The child of darkness would appear to be a direct reference to the Antichrist, an emotive title that over the years has come to mean an incarnation of ultimate evil that is Satan-inspired. The popular film series The Omen (The Omen, Richard Donner, 1976; Damien: Omen II, Don Taylor, 1978; The Final Conflict, Graham Baker, 1981) featured a child called Damien, the Antichrist, who was identified by the number 666. This number was identified in Revelation 13:18 as "the number of the beast". As a rather tenuous link, this chapter of Revelations contains descriptions of two beasts that will ravage the earth. They are horrible beasts with many heads and horns and are described as dragon-like.

[17] Interestingly, the descriptions of Dahak in the Zoroastrian religion are of a terrible force of darkness, sometimes visualized as a three headed dragon, with scorpions and lizards making up his body. In the Official Xena Magazine #4, there is an interesting article comparing Zoroastrianism and Christianity. Undoubtedly, Satan and Dahak CAN be compared to each other. Similarly, Hope and Jesus as the children of darkness and light can be contrasted.

[18] Xena's conviction that Hope is evil and must be killed causes Gabrielle to take Hope and flee. In Mary and Joseph's case it was King Herod who was the baby killer (Matthew 2:13-23). Herod had been told in a prophesy that a child born in the town of Bethlehem would be a great king, and, not fancying the competition, he ordered the slaughter of the innocents. All baby boys under 2 years of age were put to the sword. After a warning in a dream, Mary and Joseph took their child and fled to Egypt. Gabrielle also takes her child to save it from slaughter, and flees to New Zealand, sorry, deepest rural Britannia. Her warning comes not from angels in a dream, but she gets her assistance from the Banshees, who in Celtic folklore were female spirits whose wailing predicted a death in the family. In Gabrielle's case, the wailing of the Banshees signaled a birth, although not a conventional one.

[19] At the moment of Jesus' death, there was said to have been

a great earthquake, the curtain wall of the temple of Jerusalem split in two (Matthew 27:51), and darkness covered the land (Luke 23:44-45). Interestingly, it is the moment of Hope's conception in THE DELIVERER (50/304) that sees the darkness, the earthquake, and the destruction of the temple of Dahak. Also, Hope's birth in GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) was accompanied by storms and an eclipse as darkness that swept the land for a time.

[20] These episodes did not have these strong similarities to the nativity story by mistake, though I am not seeking to second guess Renaissance Pictures here. I am merely pointing out similarities. Hope could be viewed as the opposite of Jesus Christ. Hope is not the Savior of mankind as Jesus was, however. Rather, she is the way by which ultimate evil is to enter the world. The distorted parallels to the nativity story reinforce that idea. Of course the big difference is that God is benevolent, and Dahak most certainly is not. Jesus was also male, and Hope is female.


MATERNAL INSTINCTS

Hair by Rat's Nest

Hope grows up quickly.


[21] In the Christian New Testament, we do not hear a lot about Jesus' childhood. The events surrounding his birth are described in detail in St. Luke's gospel, and the next time we hear of him is when he is about twelve and is lost at the temple (Luke 2:41-51). After that, the gospel moves onto Jesus' ministry.

[22] Interestingly, Hope's story is not so different. Her birth is seen in GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305). When we next see her, in MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311), she is about twelve. Her next appearance, barring the scarred creature from the Hercules episode ARMAGEDDON NOW (H73/414), is as an adult. Hope is ready to begin her twisted mission, and she is now played by Renee O'Connor. Spooky!

[23] In Jesus' case, the story of him getting lost in the temple displays that the boy was quite aware of His true nature. He speaks with the holy men on equal terms, even though He is a child. His parents' wishes come second to His desire to talk about His real Father. Hope's shunning of her mortal parent, Gabrielle, is obviously a little more extreme, but she also has guidance from an elder. In MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311) her "Aunty Callisto". While she is active and deadly in MATERNAL INSTINCTS, there is no doubting Hope's fledgling power. She knows who she is and who her father is, and she wants to do his will.


SACRIFICE I and II

[24] Both Hope and Jesus Christ had been amassing followers and believers. The Priest of the Flesh and the Priestess of the Blood seen in SACRIFICE II (68/322), who are needed for Hope to be reborn, are eerily reminiscent of the Last Supper. Jesus broke the bread and blessed the wine, and said "This is my body", and "This is my blood", a ceremony still seen in Christian churches all over the world (Matthew 26:26-28). According to the Catholic doctrine of transubstanciation, the bread and wine really do become the body and blood of Jesus.

[25] The people worshiping a new goddess at the start of SACRIFICE I (67/321) brings to mind Matthew, chapter 24 where Jesus warns his disciples about false prophets and people claiming to be the new Christ. Jesus also predicts that many would follow these false prophets, but they would be led to their deaths (Matthew 24:5-9).

I'm sure I'll return with a plausible explanation!

Gabby pulls Hope with her down in the pit.


[26] Hope's death in SACRIFICE II (68/322) could, at a stretch, be compared to the premature death of Jesus. A selfless sacrifice for the greater good is made resulting in the death of the deity's offspring, and both offspring do return. However, in Hope's case, the sacrifice is Gabrielle's while Jesus himself is, of course, gives Himself for a willing sacrifice in the New Testament. Both Jesus and Hope also make a return from the dead, on the third day, or, in the case of Xena, in the third episode of the Season Three.

[27] The symbolism present in the story arc involving Hope is striking and serves to make that storyline a convincing and more believable one. While many of the stories in Xena: Warrior Princess have their roots in Greek mythology, the producers obviously like to draw their inspiration from history and religious beliefs also.


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